Monthly Archives: October 2014

Apple of My Pie

I don’t think I’ve ever been thought of as ugly, but I’m no model. There were even days when I was called nice looking – a few weeks or so back in 1981. Small window for sure, but young and thin and I thought ohhh yeah, I’m hot… Those few good weeks are long gone.

Still, I’m like some of my friends. Some mornings I look in the mirror and think hey, not so bad for a guy in his early fifties! Ohhh yeah, I’m hot…

Other mornings I look in the mirror and think hey, look what the cat coughed up.

That particular Saturday morning was a cat cougher. I was up early to run errands, hadn’t slept well, and I’d eaten Chinese food the night before. My favorite, #17 with extra broccoli, tends to make my face resemble a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day balloon.

My puffy eyes and I set off to do errands and I resigned myself to the fact that I was a bloated sack of hideousness. But, I’d just turned 50 after all, so I guessed it was to be expected. I knew I shouldn’t have eaten Chinese food the night before and I felt guilty and disgusted for having done that to myself.

I sought solace in an apple pie from the fast food store on the corner.

Heading onto the highway to start my errands, I quickly stuck the apple pie in my mouth and held it there. I drove with one hand and used the other hand to search for change for the toll.

When I approached the toll booth I gnawed off a hunk of pie off as I yanked it from my mouth. I stopped at the toll booth feeling particularly swollen and handed the attendant the change. I noticed she was a young woman, very attractive, but with a stern look on her face.

Until she reached to take my change.

She smiled when I stopped, smiled more as she looked me in face, and then smiled even wider. I smiled back, handed her the change, and drove off.

Smugly, I started to think hey, not so bad for a guy in his early fifties. Ohhh yeah, I’m hot.

Maybe my eyes weren’t so puffy and maybe I had gotten enough sleep. To mentally high-five myself for having made the young lady smile, I pulled down the rear view mirror to check myself out. I had to see what had made her smile.

I saw it.

A slab of pie crust stuck to my lip and chin, held in place with apple filling that had already dripped several times onto my neck.

Ohhh yeah, I’m hot.

Stuart M. Perkins

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Going Up?

This morning I saw a young guy have difficulty getting on the elevator. His overloaded cart stubbornly refused to make it through the door. I grabbed one end and helped him push it through the doors and onto the elevator. He thanked me, a random stranger to him, and we went our separate ways. He needed help. I helped. The end.

The flashback made me reel.

Almost thirty years ago I pushed a similar cart onto an elevator at my first job – or attempted to. I had difficulty with my cart until a random stranger helped me out.

When I got my first job at A.H. Robins in my hometown of Richmond, Virginia, family and friends alike applauded. How lucky I was, they said, to have been hired by the pharmaceutical company owned by such a well-known and respected Richmond family. They were correct.

I had friends and family employed there and had always heard stories of the close relationship employees had, not just with each other, but with members of the Robins family themselves. At the time, E. Claiborne Robins Sr., already in his seventies, still came to his office each day. I’d never met any of the Robins family and wouldn’t have known them had we passed on the street, but stories of their kindness and goodwill were heard in the halls daily.

It was during my first week that I took that overloaded cart and headed to the sixth floor of “the Tower”. I knew there were people of importance up there… but as the new guy in my early twenties, everyone I saw in the halls seemed important. Still, each one smiled and said hello. It was that sort of place there at A.H.Robins.

Stella, my supervisor at the time and now almost thirty years later still my friend, had helped me load the cart.

“You take it on up and I’ll meet you at the front desk. I gotta talk to Helen a minute.” Stella said. She was sure I’d have no trouble.

I wasn’t so sure.

Trouble started for me about the time Stella waved to a friend in Employee Health as she passed by on her way to the front desk. The wheels of my cart became lodged in the track of the elevator door and there I stood, embarrassed, stuck, and jolted each time the elevator door closed on me, re-opened and closed on me again.

I was mortified.

As I pondered simply leaving the cart wedged in the door and doing the army crawl through the cafeteria and straight home, a hand pushed against the door. An old man tossed his briefcase into the elevator and grabbed one end of the cart. He said very little. In fact I don’t know if he even spoke at all – but he smiled – and I knew he was there to help.

In a matter of seconds the old man helped me dislodge the cart and get it onto the elevator. With little room then left inside, he told me to go ahead, he’d take the next one up. I made my trip to the sixth floor and back down to where Stella stood leaning against the front desk. She had a grin on her face.

Assuming she was going to laugh at my getting stuck in the elevator, I confessed.

“The cart got stuck but an old man helped me.” I said quickly, awaiting her response.

“Uhhh, Stuart”, she began with an excited smile, “that was no old man. That was Mr. Robins!”

That was the first time, but I’m happy to say not the last, that I met E. Claiborne Robins, Sr. Each time, he had a smile on his face.

Employees smiled there too. I’m still impressed with the way past employees remain in touch, gather several times a year, and keep each other informed on topics of all sorts. All these years later, I still have several friends from that era. We shared a unique experience being employed there together.

I was spoiled by the Robins experience. In the time that has followed my nearly eleven years there, I have yet to encounter a work environment that comes close to encouraging, rewarding, and supporting its employees the way A.H. Robins did. I’m sure the credit goes to the smiling old man who helped me get my cart onto the elevator.

A man who took over a family business, spent decades building it to national and international prominence, and who undoubtedly had more to do that particular day than “unstick” a cart for an embarrassed kid, still took the time to do just that. Smiling all the while.

I needed help. He helped. The end.

Stuart M. Perkins

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